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interests / / [The Conversation] 50 years on, Dungeons & Dragons is still a gaming staple. What’s behind its monumental success?

o [The Conversation] 50 years on, Dungeons & Dragons is still a gaming staple. Whakyonshi

[The Conversation] 50 years on, Dungeons & Dragons is still a gaming staple. What’s behind its monumental success?


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From: (kyonshi)
Subject: [The_Conversation]_50_years_on,_Dungeons_&_Dragon
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2024 15:58:50 +0100
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50 years on, Dungeons & Dragons is still a gaming staple. What’s behind
its monumental success?

Published: February 9, 2024 5.15am CET

Lisa M. Given
Professor of Information Sciences & Director, Social Change Enabling
Impact Platform, RMIT University
Sarah Polkinghorne
Research Fellow, Social Change Enabling Impact Platform, RMIT University

Disclosure statement

Lisa M. Given is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in
Australia. She receives funding from the Australian Research Council,
the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the
Australian Library and Information Association.

Sarah Polkinghorne does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive
funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this
article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their
academic appointment.

RMIT University

RMIT University provides funding as a strategic partner of The
Conversation AU.

Half a century on from its creation, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) continues
to attract millions of players across demographics.

The tabletop role-playing game truly has cemented its position in an
increasingly competitive market, valued at more than US$15 billion (A$23
billion) in 2022.

How is a fantasy game from 1974 still capturing the imagination of so
many people?

How to play

Tabletop role-playing games are driven by players’ own imaginations.
They are a collaborative form of storytelling where players collectively
control the narrative and “play” their characters through their words
and actions.

In D&D, each player creates a character (such as a human, elf or dwarf,
to name a few examples) with unique qualities. Do you like spells? You
can be a wizard. Interested in sabotage? Become a rogue. Enjoy combat?
You may be a barbarian at heart.

Guided by a dungeon master, your party narrates a quest-filled campaign
filled with sticky situations and perilous encounters.

Players roll dice, including a 20-sided die, to dictate what actions
they can take. The numbers they roll decided their successes and
failures, whether they’re casting spells, picking locks, or attacking

There are abundant rules, minutiae and lore. But, at its heart, D&D is
simply a collective effort to tell a great story.

A global success

More than 50 million people worldwide are estimated to have played D&D.
This is immense reach for a game that emerged in the 1970s as a fantasy
spin-off from strategic war gaming, where predominantly male players
used miniatures to simulate military operations.

D&D’s increased popularity, over the past decade in particular, has been
driven by the success of the game’s current version (the fifth edition,
released in 2014), the growth in online gaming culture, as well as
increased social acceptance of what have historically been considered
“nerdy” or “geeky” interests.

Franchises such as Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings have also
helped bring fantasy narratives into the mainstream.

The current D&D edition hits a sweet spot. It’s complex enough to
sustain long-standing players, but approachable enough to draw in new
people. Following its 2014 release, celebrities such as Vin Diesel and
Joe Mangianello made online appearances playing D&D.

In 2016, Netflix’s Stranger Things introduced the game to a massive new
audience, as a portrayal of 1980s suburban nostalgia for carefree
creative adventures.

Cultural representations of the game are plentiful, including in the
2023 film Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, 2023 videogame of
the year Baldur’s Gate 3, podcasts such as Critical Role, and
live-streamed D&D campaigns available on YouTube and Twitch.
Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean
Page and Justice Smith at the 2023 premiere of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor
Among Thieves. EPA/Mohammed Badra

But as D&D became mainstream, scrutiny followed. The subculture has its
share of controversies, including an element of toxic fandom that
expresses hostility towards the game’s evolution and diversifying fan base.

As with any growing community, some fans have been concerned with
gate-keeping. Some players experience bullying and exclusion, while
others find themselves in awkward conversations around the table. This
has been a recurring concern for women trying D&D for the first time.

On balance, however, the vast majority of people play to have fun,
express their creativity and engage with others. The flexible nature of
the game means fans have found endless ways to turn their campaigns into
something highly personal and treasured.

D&D continues to evolve through the rich contributions of its fan base,
for whom it has become an important outlet for creativity and
We all need connection

In challenging times, tabletop games provide inexpensive entertainment,
escapism and a way to stay connected to friends and family.

One recent Australian study, of community members playing the game over
an eight-week period, found playing D&D decreased players’ depression,
stress and anxiety, and increased self-esteem. The authors suggest the
game could be used as a wellbeing intervention tool or to prevent mental
health issues from arising.

Role-playing games in particular offer psychological support to people
of all ages, helping to combat anxiety and build confidence.

This is particularly valuable at a time when social isolation is
plaguing communities. Australia’s social cohesion index dropped to its
lowest level in 2023. People were concerned about rising household
expenses and the state of the economy, with almost half of respondents
feeling socially isolated some or all of the time.

During the COVID pandemic, many households in lockdown introduced game
nights to entertain themselves. Now, even with restrictions lifted,
Australia continues to experience a thriving role-playing and board game

The campaign continues

Around the world, shared public spaces, cafés and pubs offer tabletop
gaming spaces to foster community engagement. Public libraries have
included spaces for gaming since the 1850s, starting with billiard
tables and puzzles, and now including video games.

New social media communities, such as the Latrobe Valley Boardgamers
Facebook Group, are frequently popping up for people with shared gaming

In April, the British Library will host a live-streamed event to
celebrate D&D’s 50-year legacy – one of many events to be held this
year. A new rules update is expected later in the year and is sure to
entice fans new and old.

interests / / [The Conversation] 50 years on, Dungeons & Dragons is still a gaming staple. What’s behind its monumental success?


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